What Arizona Can Learn From
Oregon's Marijuana Experiment
With A Likely Appearance Of Legalization On The November Ballot, Oregon's Recent Experience And Independent Research Can Provide Insight To Voters In The Grand Canyon State
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
May 13, 2015 — “The times they are a-changin’.” When professional pothead and occasional folk singer Bob Dylan sang those fateful words decades ago he wasn’t talking about legalizing marijuana, but the spirit of that generic protest anthem still rings true today when applied to the debate over recreational weed.
“Come senators, congressmen/ Please heed the call/ Don't stand in the doorway/ Don't block up the hall…”
Increasingly, congressmen and women and voters at the state level are getting their butts out of the doorway and making way for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington all have varying laws legalizing the sale and use of marijuana to qualified consumers over the age of 21.
And with good reason. While there are many topics to debate when it comes to recreational marijuana, finances are not one of them. The taxes levied against the sale of legal cannabis has been a real boon for states that have passed these measures.
Oregon reportedly brought in $11 million in income during the first week of legal marijuana sales. Colorado, meanwhile, brought in roughly $135 million in tax revenue from cannabis sales last year and brought in $14,195,923 in marijuana taxes, licences and fees in March of this year, according to data from Colorado Department of Revenue. Coloradans also voted to invest some extra marijuana tax revenue into the education system.
This is an especially enticing issue for a state like Arizona that consistently spends less per student than almost any other state in the nation.
Arizonans may have the chance to take up the issue this fall. Currently, proponents of the Arizona Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Initiative and the Arizona Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana Act are gathering signatures in an attempt to place the proposed legislation before voters in the November election. Both campaigns must gather 150,000 signatures from registered voters in the state to have their separate initiatives go before voters.
If both pieces of legislation reach the ballot and receive a majority of votes in November, the one with the most votes would supercede the other in areas where the legislation conflicts, according to Ballotpedia.
Along with the changing legal status of cannabis comes a changing retail format, if you will. I recently visited Portland and, for the first time, experienced what it was like to purchase legal weed. The experience was shocking in its banality.
Now, with legalization, I expected a modicum of formality. I did not expect to meet some dreadlocked fifth year senior from Reed College in his mom’s basement, but my expectations were something along the lines of a dingy smoke shop filled with said fifth year seniors.
When I walked into Oregon’s Finest, I was confronted by what can only be described as the nicest DMV you’ve ever been to. The room was comfortable, if a bit sparsely furnished, and a man at the counter took my ID and entered my information into the system. Unlike the DMV, this man was overly jovial and had the air of a person who works in a professional marijuana establishment in that he “permanently high” was his functioning personality even when he wasn’t high.
From that point, I sat on a bench by a window and stared at the overcast Portland skyline for about 10 minutes until another patron exited the sales room. Only a certain amount of consumers are allowed on the floor at any given time, so you basically have to check in, take your proverbial number and wait.
The sales floor was as unexciting as a room filled with weed could be. There were jars of various varieties on the wall (available for customers to smell and bathe in the dank aroma), edibles behind glass cases and various joints available for purchase.
Once, again, a jovial gentleman who obviously knew his stuff, came over to help me. After talking about what I wanted for a few minutes (mellow vs. hallucinogenic, etc), I grabbed my preferred joint, walked to the register and paid for it.
Despite the joint in my pocket, when I left I felt like had just registered my car or interviewed for a job. But I guess that is the point.
But, the legalized recreational marijuana question is about so much more than having a safe, regulated and kitschy place to buy your weed. It’s not even about all the money states can make. There’s also an ethical question. When consumers buy their weed from a state regulated facility, they, more or less, know where that ganja is coming from.
The same can’t be said for marijuana that is available on the black market. Illegally procured weed can come from a variety of unsavory sources. According to the unclassified Domestic Cannabis Cultivation Assessment 2009” from the National Drug Intelligence Center, much of the marijuana available in the U.S. is produced in foreign countries, namely Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Canada.
“Mexico remains the primary foreign source for commercial-grade marijuana in the United States; approximately 15,800 metric tons of marijuana were potentially produced in Mexico in 2007, according to the latest data available from the Central Intelligence Agency Crime and Narcotics Center (CNC). Annual Mexican consumption is estimated at 100 to 500 metric tons;13 consequently, law enforcement officials believe that the majority of the marijuana that Mexico produces is bound for U.S. markets,” reads the report.
Meanwhile, the report states that Asian organized crime syndicates control much of the high-grade marijuana production in Canada.
Why does the source matter? One only has to look at the drug-fueled violence that has ravaged much of Mexico since its War on Drugs began in 2006. As drug trafficking organizations in the country vye for portions of the lucrative U.S. market and continue to battle government forces, civilians are often caught in the crossfire.
The Mexican government has estimated that as many as 165,000 homicides took place in the country from 2007 to 2014, and, though it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many of those are drug-related, some estimates put the figure as high as 55%.
Additionally, foreign drug trafficking organizations have been linked to other serious criminal activities, including human trafficking, according to
Will simply legalizing recreational marijuana in the U.S. solve this problem? No. There are still groups that don’t or will not legally qualify to purchase recreational marijuana. Additionally, the cost of recreational marijuana, because of both its quality and associated taxes, could be prohibitive.
That being said, it is difficult to truly understand what effect a significantly decreased U.S. demand would have on the illegal marijuana trade as demand will remain high in this country as long as marijuana remains recreationally illegal on a wide scale. The only way to determine the effects a reduced market demand could have on the illegal trade is to make legal recreational marijuana available to a large portion of users.
If we take prohibition in America as an example, there is reason to believe that legalized marijuana could limit violence related to the cultivation and sale of illegal weed. According to a Cato Institute policy analysis by Mark Thornton, O. P. Alford III Assistant Professor of Economics at Auburn University, prohibition was a failure and directly led to an increased in organized crime and related violence.
“Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased,” reads the executive summary of Thornton's “Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure.” “ Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism.”
The study goes on to say “Repeal of Prohibition dramatically reduced crime, including organized crime, and corruption.”
But critics of legalized marijuana may have viable concerns as well, especially in the area of DUIs. “In 2014, when retail marijuana stores began operating, there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year,” according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado The Impact” Volume 3 report.
While this is a valid point to make, it is imperative to point out that the vast majority of the nation has made its peace with alcohol legalization and that drug is responsible for roughly 88,000 deaths per year, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
In reality, there is no way to tell exactly how legalized recreational marijuana will affect Arizona or the illegal weed trade. But, is it better to continue working with a broken system of prohibition or move on to a legalized, moderated approach that has some historical precedence? In the end, that decision could come up to the voters in November. Whatever decision voters make, the costs could be high.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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